Titans break skid, look to finish strong in March

Photo courtesy of Detroit Mercy Athletics

Six weeks ago, the Detroit Mercy men’s basketball team sat at 0-12 after a struggle of a non-conference campaign, which left the Titans with a roster that was anything but healthy. The shorthanded Titans fought hard in their two conference games to this point and came up just short against Ball State and Ole Miss, leaving the late December bout against IUPUI in Indy as a potential restart for the Titans. A team which was supposed to be due back a large portion of their rotation to gear up to make a push, much like Mike Davis’s last Texas Southern team did.  

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen to the extent that coach Mike Davis and company hoped for, and the Titans still sit winless at 0-26 (0-15 HL). Horizon League leading scorer Jayden Stone (20.5 PPG) missed six games during this stretch, including the loss versus IUPUI, which Jaguar star guard Jlynn Counter missed as well.  

Edoardo Del Cadia and Emmanuel Kuac, who normally play about 45 minutes between the two a night, combined for just three total minutes and one rebound the whole game. Donnovan Toatley started that game for the Titans splashing two threes, but the 5 9 guard along with fellow graduate senior in 6 10 Oton Jankovic are no longer with the program. Freshman Ryan Hurst was the lone bright spot for the Titans in a 12-point loss that felt a lot bigger, scoring 22 points on 8 of 18 shooting, but that spot would dim fast as Hurst would only play two more contests before shutting his season down after just five games due to his lingering foot injury.  

UDM averaged a little over 58.5 points in the six games Stone wasn’t active. In the nine games since the Aussie has been back, that number has shot up to 66.5 PPG, good enough to land the Titans in three games decided by seven or less. The defense on the other hand has not seen the same type of improvement and is just plain inconsistent, giving up 100+ points twice, including 105 to Youngstown in regulation at home.  

Davis acknowledged this enigma, saying before the game Wednesday that “the offense has executed much better lately, but we’re too relaxed defensively, no awareness, we’re giving up too many easy buckets at the wrong time.”  

If you’re a Titan fan, the likes of Trey Calvin and Marques Warrick have painted Davis’s words to reality like an artist to a canvas, killing the Titans late surges with crucial shots, a lot of which coming from the mid-range. To stop Counter from doing the same and terrorizing Titan faithful in their territory, Davis emphasized one thing, “keep them out of the paint,” which is exactly what the Titans did in route to their first victory of the 23-24 season.  

Outside of some expected lulls in the second half, the Titans controlled the game from start to finish while only playing seven guys to IUPUI’s 10, including walk on Tobin Schwannecke who had a career high five points in 15 minutes of action. UDM won the board battle by nine, forced 19 turnovers and outscored the Jaguars in the paint 36-24, while making Jlynn Counter play outside of his game just enough shooting 0-4 from 3 and 33% from the field, something that likely played a part in the huge smile on Davis’s face in postgame.  

On offense, 58 of UDM’s 81 came from the likes of the three-guard trio of Stone with 25, (also led the Titans in rebounds with 6) Tankersley with 19 and Manciel 14 (4-9 from 3). Thanks to impactful blocks from Del Cadia and Kuac to set the tone on defense in the second half, the Titans offense almost stalled but they were never pressured to go away from who they wanted the ball to go through on a given possession.  

Still, the Titans sit at 1-26, but on Valentine’s Day in Calihan Hall a one-man court storm and happy –5.5 bettors alike showing support on social media brought a refreshing sense of energy to the program. energy that any D1 player deserves to feel at least once at a program they put countless hours into, no matter the result. The new members of the win column are not deadlocked in last either as they can still finish over IUPUI and would go into the Horizon League Tournament as the 10th seed, but it will be tough over the last five games including trips to Youngstown and up I-75 to rival Oakland to finish the regular season slate. 

It’s possible the Titans won’t win another game, but they finally have a core rotation that has had some time to settle in and is starting to shoot better as a group. They aren’t great at pulling out wins, but they’ve battled enough times that they are not afraid to lose, and that’s the last team you want to draw in a conference tournament. 

Looking beyond this season, I don’t know what the future holds for Davis, in the penultimate year of his contract, but if he does come back there is extensive major upside in house. Including Marcus Tankersley, Davis’s most productive recruit that enrolled as a freshman during his era, not sharing his namesake. Ryan Hurst could also be back for the Titans and potentially still a freshman due to games played, while the only one forced to hang it up at the college level will be Del Cadia. Stone could make the decision to forgo his fifth year and pursue his professional career or even use that year at another school.  

A veteran led team with the likes of guys like Kuac, Legreair and Schwannecke to supplement the guard trio would leave the coaching staff with the responsibility of only having to hit on two to three transfers rather than the seemingly normal six to nine. Add in Tchikou for the sake of conversation, and that’s a squad Titans fans should be excited about, should it come to fruition.  

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